School & District Management Opinion

The War Within The Charter Movement: Quality Vs. Choice

By Alexander Russo — August 03, 2007 3 min read
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Charter opponents tend to think of charter school folks as one big happy family, while in reality they are anything but that. One of the key dividing lines among charter advocates has to do with quality and accountability -- one side emphasizing it, the other more focused on choice and competition. Following up on yesterday’s announcement of the strong test scores in New Orleans, NACSA’s Greg Richmond -- strongly on the side of quality and accountability -- sent out an email touting the city’s accomplishments.From NACSA:

I want to make sure you have the chance to read the article from this week’s New Orleans Times-Picayune, “Charter schools lead the way on LEAP.”


Louisiana’s bold commitment to charter schools is showing strong positive results for children.

In the weeks and months that followed Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana leaders made a remarkable commitment to use charter schools to rebuild New Orleans’ public schools. NACSA has been working closely with state officials since then, designing a charter school accountability framework, establishing oversight policies and procedures, and evaluating many dozens of applications to start new charter schools.

In the application review process, we set high standards for quality. We recommended against some proposals that everyone assumed would be approved. We were publicly criticized but we took a stand, along with Louisiana’s tough state board of education. There can be no free passes to start a school.

We surprised others by recommending a proposal from an inspiring group of educators from a previously struggling New Orleans public school. We saw the potential these educators had – if they could be set free from district control. And the students are now benefiting from that decision. As the article reports, the King elementary school “has continued to surge since becoming a charter school.”

Across the city, the results are now coming in. New Orleans public schools that converted to charter status made strong improvement compared to their own school’s prior scores. “In scores released this week, charter schools such as Wright posted higher scores at every grade level,” reports the Times-Picayune, “some showing vast improvement over their Pre-Katrina, pre-charter performance under the Orleans Parish School Board.”

In addition to strong test results for the charter schools themselves, New Orleans is now telling another story. At the same time that a set of new charter schools opened, the state’s Recovery School District opened and operated twenty schools of its own along a traditional district model. Opening at the same time, operating side-by-side, serving the same communities, we now have a nearly perfect case study of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the “charter model” and the “district model.”

“In the first test scores offering meaningful a comparison between charter schools and traditional public schools in New Orleans, charter schools clustered near the top of the rankings,” reports the Times-Picayune. “Traditional schools – particularly those run by the state-run Recovery School District – in some cases had more than half of their students fail the test.”

About one-third of New Orleans’ students are in district-run schools. As someone who worked closely with new RSD Superintendent Paul Vallas in Chicago, I know that Paul will quickly right this ship, improving schools that remain under RSD control and converting some RSD schools into charters.

The coming years will hold more lessons. So far New Orleans is teaching us that the charter school model empowers educators to deliver better results for children and that smart authorizing is an important component of that success. Along with hundreds of dedicated educators, thousands of New Orleans students and families, and bold Louisiana public officials, NACSA is proud to be a part of this success.

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